On the map, Occidental may look like a mere blip on your vacation screen – a place to pass through on your way to other destinations. But in reality those quirky, small town sensibilities create the perfect environment for artists, and art lovers, to thrive by owning shops and galleries. If you poke around the shops that line this historic main street, you’ll find an amazing array of artistry, from baskets woven of redwood shards to museum quality hand blown glass. Come take a virtual tour with our guide to shopping in Occidental:
Laurence Glass Works features fine art: almost all of it local, and quite a bit of it made by the store owner herself, Laurence. Collectors from across the country make it a point to stop at her elegantly spare and light-filled shop to claim their newest acquisitions. In fact, many have been returning to this shop faithfully for 15 to 20 years or more. The reason? It offers a beautifully curated assortment of artwork, assembled in the perfect space for showcasing the craft of each piece. You might find a sleek, modernist table made of fused glass and local woods that have been finished to a satin patina. Or finely sculptured jewelry pieces. But mostly you’ll find stunning works on paper and in glass. The owner herself is a glass artist originally from France, who opened her Occidental shop in 1987. You can stop by just to chat, she is in the shop regularly and able to tell you the stories behind all the pieces she offers.
Next stop: Hand Goods, right down the road. Anywhere from 80-85 percent off the products you’ll see on display are made locally, and offer an exercise in artistic diversity. You’ll find everything from pottery, woodwork, and basketry to bath products, gift cards, clothing, and toys. It’s sort of an emporium of unique, handcrafted items with something for everyone – including men’s hand-woven shirts, women’s sun hats, and kid’s toys, as well as locally made coffee mugs and coffee tables. The store itself was established over 40 years ago as an outlet for the area’s considerable artistic community, and has grown to include some crafts from around the world as well, including wool rugs from Oaxaca and cashmere blankets from Nepal. It’s an ideal gift stop for yourself or someone you love back home.
Across the street is BoHo Bungalow, perfectly named because it caters to a love of quirky but beautifully crafted items designed for living well at home. The store owner has an artist’s eye for decor and, in fact, offers interior design services to help you create an abode you’ll love. Looking for a central, stunning piece to pull a room together? Consider a life-size wood horse head to adorn the wall, or choose what I can only imagine are larger-than-life angel wings. And then there are the little things that add charm and laughter to life, including candles in holders crafted out of bottles of the famous Pliny The Elder beer and Iron Horse champagne. You’ll also find everything you need for a true “glamping” experience, and there’s even a wedding section with unique gifts and favors for everyone from the happily wedded couple to the bridesmaids and dinner guests.
Just next door is Galleria, specializing in “authenticities & cultural eccentricities.” That concept is much easier to grasp as soon as you walk into the store. On the wall you will find yourself face to face with an amazing collection of tin art from Haiti and handsomely crafted African masks. In the showcases are glittering, and I mean radiantly brilliant, jewelry from Guatemala and glass art sourced from studios from Chico to Poland. Or check out the Houri jackets from Japan and the Talavera pottery from Mexico.
And in-between are local crafts as well, which make really wonderful mementos from your trip, such as the line of Sonoma produced lavender products. It’s kind of like an armchair traveler’s dream: finding the best of all worlds, right at your feet.
When You Get Hungry
And don’t forget to fortify yourself for your shopping forays with a visit to any of the downtown fixtures featuring true comfort food, including Howard Station Café for updated diner fare or Union Hotel Restaurant and Café for a vintage Italian lunch including pasta dishes accompanied by homemade soup, antipasto, and salad.
Written by Sonoma Insider Vicky Ness